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Eliot Spitzer, Scott Stringer Argue Over Credibility In Comptroller Debate

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer tried to convince voters that he is the most credible choice for city comptroller, while former Gov. Eliot Spitzer touted his resume in the capital markets during a Democratic debate that grew tense at times Thursday night.

One of the biggest revelations to come out of the debate, held at the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan, was Spitzer's promise to work for $1 a year, just as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done since taking office in 2002. Spitzer agreed to the minimal salary after being asked by debate moderate Marcia Kramer of CBS 2, who cited his individual wealth.

"Yes, I'm very comfortable," Spitzer said. "I do very well. I don't want anyone to think I'm Mike Bloomberg. I'm not. ... I think there are a significant number of zeroes between he and me. ... In answer directly to your question: Will I serve for $1 a year? Yes."


Stringer said he has two young children and needs the salary. John Liu, the current comptroller, earns $185,000 a year.

Stringer wasted no time attacking Spitzer for resigning as governor in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal.

"The fact that we can even ask a candidate for comptroller about being Client No. 9 speaks to the issue of credibility in the capital market. ... This election is about giving someone a seat when he violated the trust of the people in his last office," Stringer said.

Spitzer, however, said he has the background needed to run the city's finances.

"I think credibility in the capital markets is what this campaign is about," he said.

The debate grew personal at times. Spitzer attacked Stringer, suggesting he helped Bloomberg get a third term despite voter-approved term limits. Stringer shot back: "You are more out of touch than I thought you were. No one thinks that I gave him a third term."

When asked about the negative tone of the race and whether they could say something nice about each other, Spitzer and Stringer admitted that they consider each other to be friends.

"I don't think we've been hurling insults," Spitzer said. "Politics sometimes can get a little ugly. Scott and I like each other. We get along, and I think whatever is said in this campaign, I hope afterwards we will be the friends that we were beforehand."

Said Stringer: "Part of the political discourse is about comparing and contrasting record, and it was never, ever my intention or Eliot's to say anything that is personal between us. We've been friends before this campaign. We're going to be friends after this campaign. .... We are definitely going to hang out after this, that I promise you. He's going to help babysit my two kids."

Stringer, in calling for the ex-governor to release his tax returns for the last five years, also pressed Spitzer over a report that he held investments in the Cayman Islands. Spitzer said the investments are not his.

"They're the investments of a foundation that has been created by my parents that has given over $30 million away to CCNY, to the Museum of Natural History to teach evolution, to the public theater," he said. "This is a success story."

Both Spitzer and Stringer said they supported the decriminalization of marijuana. While Spitzer said legalizing marijuana would open up a revenue stream through taxation, Stringer admitted that the issue was not part of his agenda.

In their closing statements, Spitzer said it's "in his blood" to fight for the public. "Fighting for low-wage workers, who aren't being paid. Fighting for immigrants, who needed a driver's license. Fighting against a system on Wall Street that was cheating the public," he said.

Stringer said he would watch out for working families who are being squeezed financially. "We've got to build out our education infrastructure," he said. "We've got to build more affordable housing. We have to make sure that the people who were victimized during Hurricane Sandy, that they get the resources they need."

When asked what the candidates thought was the biggest example of fiscal waste in the city government, Spitzer pointed to pensions.

"Four hundred million dollars in fees is being wasted to those who manage pension plans," he said. "Bring the management of those assets in-house. We will do it better if you elect someone who understands the capital market, who can manage money, who can make the hard determinations about where to put that capital so that we get a better return."

Stringer said he believes the city can cut the money spent on claims by implementing a system that identifies problem areas.

"Right now, the NYPD has a huge number of claims," Stringer said. "People are suing the NYPD because of stop-and-frisk and other issues."

Spitzer did not relent on attacking Stringer over Bloomberg's third term, which he said negatively impacted education and public housing. Stringer, who noted that he campaigned for Bill Thompson for mayor in 2008, responded by saying Spitzer was inventing the issue after looking at his poll numbers.

"I don't know what poll numbers you're looking at, but I think the last poll numbers that were reported publicly had me up by 19 and 18 points," Spitzer responded.

The debate was sponsored by CBS 2, WCBS 880, 1010 WINS, El Diario La Prensa and Common Cause, and it was sanctioned by the Campaign Finance Board. Rich Lamb of WCBS 880 and Marlene Peralta of El Diario La Prensa served as panelists.

On the campaign trail, the two have argued about a wide range of issues, but Stringer has tried to capitalized on Spitzer's credibility following the prostitution scandal.

The personal attacks, however, have apparently not worked. A Quinnipiac poll earlier this month showed Spitzer with 56 percent of the support of likely Democratic voters, compared to just 37 percent by Stringer.

"We've seen Scott Stringer going negative, and Eliot Spitzer's numbers have improved steadily," Jeanne Zaino, a political scientist at Iona College, told Kramer. "This is a dramatic finding, and I think it's far more than I ever would have predicted."

For background information on Eliot Spitzer, including his "virtual opening statement" to voters, click here. For background information on Scott Stringer, including his "virtual opening statement," click here.

For comprehensive New York City election coverage, including background information on each candidate for major office, click here.

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